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Baidu releases free OS for autonomous vehicles

News, 20 April 2017
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SHANGHAI: Baidu, the Chinese internet giant, is to make its autonomous driving technology open source in a bid to create market dominance in the manner of Google's Android, a development which may accelerate the advent of driverless vehicles.

The company has described Apollo as an "open, complete and reliable software platform for its partners in the automotive and autonomous driving industry to develop their own autonomous driving systems".

"We see a lot of reinventing the wheel," Qi Lu, president and chief operating officer of Baidu said at the Shanghai Auto Show yesterday. "Let's innovate at a higher level."

The Financial Times noted that the move bears some similarities to Google's decision to open-source its Android operating system. The system created a set of tools that partners could then manipulate.

Beginning in July, Baidu will release the technology in phases, with intellectual property for "restricted environment" driving in the first month. By the end of the year, it will share technology for cars running autonomously in simple urban road conditions.

The aim is to release "fully autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads," Qi stated.

This far, Baidu has been working with a select number of manufacturers, including BYD, BAIC, and Chery in China, and subsequent testing with Lincoln cars in California.

According to the MIT Technology Review, the move should be read in light of China's fragmented car market. With many small carmakers and a lack of resources for developing their own autonomous cars, Baidu could be looking to become the "supplier of the brains" for these companies.

A significant attraction of open sourcing is to demonstrate a program's scalability. According to Wired, it also lets companies "share the burden of developing common infrastructure and compatibility standards".

The news comes as Apple, the notoriously secretive tech company, has received a permit to test self-driving cars in California.

Baidu's move illuminates a divide between the iPhone manufacturer and much of the tech world in a key area.

Data sourced from Financial Times, MIT Technology Review, Wired, Ars Technica; additional content by WARC staff

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